Just about every Tigers fan is aware that one of the team's biggest problems in the disappointing first third of a season has been the second base position. They have gone through four different second basemen so far - Brandon Inge, Ryan Raburn, Ramon Santiago and Danny Worth. Inge proved to be unsuitable for the position and was released. Raburn was demoted to Triple-A Toledo after a brutal start offensively. Santiago and Worth are currently sharing the position with little success.
David Berri, author of Stumbling on Wins and Wages of Wins Journal asked me a question about the second base situation today. He wanted know how many more wins the Tigers would have to this point if they had an average second baseman. One way to answer this question is to use the FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement (WAR) metric.
All four Tigers keystone players have contributed negative WAR:
So, that means the Tigers have had four players at one position who have contributed less than what you would expect from the least acceptable player a team would normally play at a position. It's pretty hard for a team to have four players below replacement all at the same position. You would think that one would would reach zero WAR just by accident.
Anyway, the Tigers have combined for -2.2 WAR at the position which is by far the worst in the majors. This says that if the the Tigers had a replacement level player at second base instead of their own motley collection, they would have won an estimated two more games. An example of a replacement level second baseman this year has been Gordon Beckham of the White Sox. He is batting only .228/.280/.391 with around average fielding, so it's not too much for a fan to expect replacemnt level performance.
David's question was a little different though. He wanted to know how many more wins they would have with an average second baseman rather than how many more they would have with a replacement level second baseman. An average player is worth about 2.0 WAR over the course of the season. We are only a third of the way into the season, so divide that by three to get 0.7 WAR. An example of an average second baseman this year is the Pirates Neil Walker who is batting .272/.326/.364 with close to average defense.
Based on the above data, the difference between an average second baseman and what the Tigers have had this year is about 2.9 WAR (2.2 + 0.7) which is a lot for two months of play. Thus, if the Tigers had an average second baseman, they would be about three wins better which would put them one game above .500 and two and a half games out of first place. That's still not great, but it would have put them in a little better position than they are now.
I was just discussing with this post with Mr Berri and decided to take it one step further. What if the Tigers had an average player in right field instead of Brennan Boesch and Don Kelly? The Tigers have been -1.7 WAR in right field. Add 0.7 (for an average right fielder) and we see that the Tigers could be 2.4 WAR better with an average right fielder. Suppose we round that up to three wins. Now, the Tigers have six more wins with an average second baseman and average right fielder. That would put them in first place.